Penn State makes the College Football Playoffs -- off the field

Peter Boger and Marchella Verdi
January 15, 2019

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Penn State made it to the 2019 College Football Championship — no, the football team did not take the field; but several Nittany Lions were at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, California learning about the importance of what happens off the field at a championship event in terms of sustainability.

In partnership with the NFL Environmental Program, 10 students from Penn State’s Recreation, Park and Tourism Management (RPTM) program and the Smeal College of Business volunteered at the championship game on Jan. 8, exploring the many ways modern sports stadiums and events are developing more sustainable fan experiences and behind-the-scenes operations.

“The game is really just one percent of what goes on in something like this mega-event,” noted Matthew Bakowicz, a Penn State RPTM instructor, who helped coordinate the trip along with Penn State’s Sustainability Institute Director of Operations and Partnerships Meghan Hoskins.

The student volunteers toured the stadium’s operations prior to the championship game — learning about how the LEED Gold-certified green building deals with food recovery, waste diversion, water recycling and sustainable construction practices. During gameday, the Penn State volunteers welcomed and engaged fans at the stadium, assisting them in making appropriate recycling and composting choices. 

“To be at an event of that scale and to understand the magnitude of the event and what it means ... was very eye-opening for me,” said AJ Balboni, a sophomore in RPTM. “It was very insightful to understand just how much sustainability plays a role in everyday sports — how it impacts sports from a literal standpoint and a figurative one as well.”

“My favorite experience from the trip was the networking aspect,” said Christina Karamanos, a junior in Smeal. “[Director of the NFL Environmental Program] Jack Groh did a great job of introducing us to really successful people in the sports sustainability industry — I have already been introduced to new internships and opportunities just by participating in this event.” 

The NFL Environmental Program’s focus is to reduce the environmental footprint of NFL events and leave a positive legacy in the communities in which those events are held — a commitment that starts long before gameday and continues after the final whistle. Given the program’s long-standing association with the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi Stadium, this year it also assisted with the College Football Playoff Championship Game since the game was being held there. 

Penn State’s students and staff are beginning to engage in this new partnership with the NFL Environmental Program to help students learn about the types of careers and impacts they can pursue in this realm and to learn about further sustainability innovations that possibly could be introduced into events at Penn State. Already, Penn State Athletics offers several sustainability initiatives, such as the Tailgate Ambassadors Program, which greets Nittany Lion tailgaters and offers color-coordinated bags to improve diversion of recyclable materials from gameday waste.

“With Penn State staff observing the championship and active participation from Penn State students, both Penn State and the NFL Environmental Program staff are able to see how an ongoing partnership would benefit both organizations,” Hoskins said. She explained that Penn State will continue to explore this partnership this spring, with Sustainability Institute staff and students being involved with the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft. 

Students interested in learning more about how they could be involved in promoting sustainability at the NFL Draft in Memphis this spring can contact Sustainability Institute Associate Director for Student Engagement Doug Goodstein at

Last Updated January 16, 2019